THE FOUR LAST THINGS —- DEATH, JUDGMENT, HELL and HEAVEN
by FATHER MARTIN VON COCHEM, O.S.F.C. comments by Pat Miron
Father Martin von Cochem was born at Cochem, on the Moselle, in the year 1625, and died at Waghausel in 1712. Copyright, 1899, by Benziger Brothers
Presented in FIVE Separate PARTS
PART II. THE LAST JUDGMENT. [In two parts] PART A
I. On the Signs that shall Precede the Last Judgment.
JESUS CHRIST, the Judge of the living and the dead, who at His first coming appeared upon the earth in all stillness and tranquillity, under a gentle and attractive form, will come again the second time to judgment with great majesty and glory.
In order that His advent may not find us unprepared, He will send beforehand many and terrible signs to warn us to abandon our sinful life. Of these signs He Himself says: “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, men withering away for fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world. For there shall be then great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be. And unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved.” What an awful announcement! What a terrible prophecy!
Could there be any more terrible prediction made to us than this which comes from the lips of eternal Truth? When God was about to destroy the city of Jerusalem, He announced its downfall by several signs. A comet, resembling a fiery sword, blazed over the city, and hosts of armed warriors were seen contending in the air. Jerusalem might at the last moment have interpreted aright these signs and done penance unto salvation. But Jerusalem knew not the time of its visitation. If God caused such wondrous signs to appear before the destruction of one single city, will He not announce the approaching end of the world, and the chastisements that are to come upon it, by awful and terrific signs? There is therefore every reason to believe, that a considerable time before the Last Day, fearful signs will appear in all lands in the Heavens. This Christ appears to indicate in the words: “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moor, and in the stars; men withering away for fear, and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world.” These signs will become more numerous day by day, and men will be struck with such terror, that if God did not shorten those days, even the very elect would begin to despair. Then, as St. Jerome says, the Heavens will be overcast with heavy clouds, and a dreadful tempest will arise.
The force of the wind will carry the inhabitants of the earth off their feet, and whirl them aloft in the air; trees will be uprooted, houses unroofed. Long peals of thunder will resound in the Heavens, the flashes of lightning, like serpents of fire, will light up the sky, and with their forked tongues, playing about the dwellings of mankind, will kindle a general conflagration, amid the crash of thunder. The waters of the ocean will be so agitated that their waves will rise mountain-high, towering almost to the clouds. The roaring and raging of the storm-swept billows will last for some time. All the beasts of the earth will lift up their voice, and their dismal howls will fill the air, so that the hearts of men will stand still for terror.
Yet this is but the beginning of sorrow, Our Lord tells us. What will next occur He describes in these words: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from Heaven, and the powers of Heaven shall be moved.”
This darkening of the sun will take place in the full light of midday. And as its golden rays enlightening the face of nature rejoice both man and beast, so the sudden withdrawal of its light will cause sorrow and distress to the whole of creation And this all the more, because the moon will cease to shine, and her gentle, peaceful light will no longer illuminate the shades of night. All the stars also which bespangle the firmament and cast a glimmering to earth, will disappear from their accustomed place. This awful darkness will strike such alarm and anguish to the heart of all living creatures, both men and brutes, that the mourning and lamentation will be universal
Here we may repeat the words spoken by Christ: “This is but the beginning of sorrow,” and we may add, there will be no end to it. For after the terrific darkness all will be upset and in disorder, and the elements will be let loose, so that men will fear lest the Heavens should fall and the earth sink from beneath their feet. This is what Christ means when He says: “The powers of Heaven shall be moved and the stars shall fall from Heaven.” For in accordance with the Divine will, the firmament with all its stars, the sun with its attendant planets, the atmosphere with its veil of clouds, will be so mightily shaken and made to tremble, that appalling sounds of crashing, breaking, fearful explosions, will everywhere be heard. The stars will be driven from their orbits, and thus the great powers of Heaven will conflict with one another
What will the feelings be of the man who lives through events such as these? How all mankind, all created beings, will mourn! Christ Himself tells us this will be so: “Upon earth will be distress of nations by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea and of the waves; men withering away for fear, and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world” (Luke xxi. 25, 26). And in another place He says: “There shall be then great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be. And unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved” (Matt. xxiv. 21, 22). Our Lord could have used no stronger expression to describe the utter misery of unhappy mortals, than by saying, they shall wither away for fear, and apprehension of the things that are yet to come upon the world. How is it possible for the men who shall be alive at that time not to despond, not to despair, in presence of such fathomless misery? Even the faith and courage of an apostle would be sorely tried to bear up against such unspeakable wretchedness. All men will have the appearance of one who has seen a ghost. Their hair will stand on end, their knees will strike together, they will quake with fear, their terror will deprive them of the power of speech, their hearts will die within them for tribulation, they will lose reason and consciousness, no one will help his neighbour, no one will comfort his neighbour, no one will so much as exchange a word with his neighbour; only they will all unite in weeping and wailing, and fly to hide themselves in the caves of the earth.
When this lamentation has lasted for a time, the God of justice will put an end to their misery, ain cellars and caverns, others will immerse themselves in rivers and lakes. The devouring flames will spread so fast that the forests will be set on fire, and the towns and villages will be included in the destruction. At length the whole earth will be on fire and a general conflagration will ensue, such as never has been seen or heard of. The heat of the raging flames will be so intense that the stones and rocks will melt, and the sea and all waters upon the earth will boil and hiss.
All men then living, every beast upon the land and every fish in the sea will be destroyed in this universal conflagration. Thus the whole world will be brought to a terrible end, and everything on this earth will be either consumed or purified by the fire. After this has happened, the appearance of the earth will be completely changed.
And all that is beneath the firmament of Heaven shall be destroyed by fire. For fire will fall down from Heaven, and ignite everything with which it comes in contact. In many places also flames will spring up out of the ground, and terrify unhappy mortals to such an extent that they will not know how to escape from them. Some will seek shelter
II. On the Resurrection of the Dead.
THE reader will perhaps not take what has been said in the preceding chapter much to heart, because he cherishes the hope that he will not be alive during that awful period. But what we are now about to speak of concerns every one, whoever he may be. Wherefore let him read it attentively and ponder it seriously.
The first event that will follow upon the end of the world is the general resurrection of the dead. All men, whoever they may be, and whenever and wherever they have lived, not excepting infants whose existence has been but one brief moment, will rise again. With the solemn blast of a trumpet God will cause all men to be summoned to the Last Judgment. Concerning this Christ says: “He shall send His Angels with a trumpet and a great voice; and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the Heavens to the utmost bounds of them” (Matt. xxiv. 31). And St. Paul says: “We shall indeed all rise again, but we shall not all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible: and we shall be changed” (i Cor. xv. 51, 52).
After the vast conflagration God will send out His Angels, who will blow so mighty a blast upon their trumpet, that it will re-echo throughout the whole world. The sound of this trumpet will be so solemn that it will cause the earth to tremble. Its powerful voice will awaken the dead, calling on them: “Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment! Arise ye dead, and come to judgment! Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment!” Loud, continuous, and most solemn will be the blast of that trumpet.
How terrified all the evil spirits and the souls of the lost will be when they hear this call! They will howl and mourn, for the fatal hour has come at last, the hour they have looked forward to so long, and with such unutterable dread. There will be such a commotion in Hell, such raving and raging and fury, that one might imagine the devils were all tearing one another to pieces. “Alas, alas!” they will shriek in their despair. “How can we possibly stand before the countenance of our angry Judge! How can we possibly endure the shame, the agony that will be our portion! Could we only remain here, how gladly would we do so, great as are the torments we have now to endure!” But vain are all their wishes, futile are all their struggles.
They cannot choose, but must obey the voice of the trumpet. The general resurrection begins while its sound still re-echoes over the whole globe. Do not pause to ask how this can be, for we know that it will be so, on the irrefragable authority of God’s omnipotence and His word which cannot deceive.
However long ago the body of a man may have crumbled into dust, whatever changes it may have passed through, every portion and every particle will unite to form again the same body which was his during his lifetime. “And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hell gave up their dead that were in them” (Apoc. xx. 13).
Consider this solemn truth, O Christian, for it concerns thee closely. As certainly as thou now livest, so certainly wilt thou one day rise again from the grave. Place this awful moment vividly before thee. Even if thou wert pious, and shouldst end thy days in the grace of God, yet, according to the testimony of Holy Scripture and of the Catholic Church, fear and trembling will lay hold upon thee. Considering how inconceivably rigorous God will be in His judgment of men, even the just will have cause to fear in appearing before His tribunal, as we shall presently show. And if good and just men are afraid, what will be the fear that thou, poor sinner, wilt feel, when the trumpet calls thee to judgment! Wherefore amend thy ways, and make thy peace now with thy strict Judge, by works of penance, while there Is yet time. Now in order that thou mayst prepare thyself for that terrible hour of resurrection, we will describe first the resurrection of the good, and then that of the reprobate.
Awakened by the solemn sound of the trumpet all the souls of the just will come down from Heaven, and, accompanied by their guardian Angels, betake themselves to the spot where their remains were interred. The graves will be open, and in them the bodies will be seen lying, incorrupt but yet lifeless. The body of every good man will rest in the grave as if he were asleep; it will be blooming as a rose, fragrant as a lily, shining as a star, fair as an Angel and perfect in every member. What will the soul say when she beholds the body appertaining to her lying before her in such beauty? She will say: “Hail, blessed and beloved body, how I rejoice once more to rejoin thee ! How lovely thou art, how glorious, how pleasing, how fragrant ! Come to me, that I may be wedded to thee for all eternity.” Then through the power of God the body will be reunited to the soul, and in that same instant return to life.
O my God, what will be the astonishment of the body when it finds itself alive again, and moulded in so beauteous a form! Soul and body will greet each other lovingly and embrace each other affectionately with heartfelt emotion. The soul will speak thus to the body: “How earnestly I have longed for thee, how I have desired to see this day! Now I will conduct thee to the regions of heavenly bliss that we may rejoice together for evermore.” And the body will answer: “Welcome, dearest soul; it is indeed a heartfelt joy to me to be with thee again. The greater the pain our past separation caused me, the greater the delight our present reunion affords.”
Then the soul will speak again, and say to the body: “Blessed be thou, my chosen companion, who hast been so faithful to me. Blessed be thy senses and all thy members, for they have ever abstained from evil.” And the body will reply: “Be thou rather blessed, O dearest soul, for it was by thy instigation I did so, and thou didst incite me to all that was good. It is to thee that I owe my present felicity, therefore I praise and magnify thee, and I will praise and magnify thee to all eternity.” Thus body and soul will rejoice together with inexpressible satisfaction.
Then the holy guardian Angels will congratulate these blessed beings and exult with them over their joyous resurrection. In all cemeteries, and places where many persons are buried, the blessed will arise first with resplendent glorified bodies. That they will take the precedence over the others may be gathered from Christ s words, when He says: “Wonder not at this; for the hour cometh, wherein all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God. And they that have done good things shall come forth to the resurrection of life; but they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment” (John v. 28, 29).
And as in every graveyard there are many persons to rise again, and amongst these a considerable proportion will be good and just, imagine the pleasure it will be to them to see one another again, arrayed in such shining glorious bodies.
God grant that I be counted amongst the number of these happy individuals ! How heartily will I thank Him if He grant my request!
The resurrection of the wicked will follow immediately upon that of the just; but oh, how different will it be! In every burying-ground all the lost souls will assemble whose bodies have been interred there, and they will be compelled again to assume them and reunite themselves to them. But what will be the reluctance, the disgust wherewith they will do this ! When the soul sees her own body, she will shrink back from it with the utmost repulsion, so hideous will it be, and she will feel that she had rather go straight to Hell than again unite herself to it. For the bodies of the reprobates will resemble devils more than men, so frightful, so loathsome, so offensive will they be. Yet, however the soul resists and opposes the reunion with her body, now so hideous, she must submit to it, for God compels her to it.
Who can depict the despair that takes possession of the body when, reanimated by the return of the soul, it awakens to a consciousness that it is lost forever. With a shriek of rage it will exclaim: “Woe is me, woe is me to all eternity! Better were it for me a thousand times never to have been born, than to have come to this resurrection of misery!” Then the soul will rejoin: “Thou accursed body, I have already for several hundred years had to endure the torments of Hell, and now I must return with thee to the everlasting burning. Thou art to blame for all this misfortune; I gave thee good counsels, but thou wouldst not follow them. Therefore thou art forever lost. Alas for me, unhappy soul that I am! Alas for me, now and for ever more! Thou hast been the means of bringing me to this endless misery. Therefore I execrate the hour in which I first came to dwell with thee.” And then the body will answer the soul after this manner: “O accursed soul, what right hast thou to anathematize me, when thou art thyself the cause of all this wretchedness? Thou shouldst have ruled me more firmly and held me back from evil, for it was with this object that God united thee to me. Instead of associating thyself with me in works of penance, thou didst revel with me in sinful pleasures. It is for me, therefore, to curse thee to all eternity, because thou art the one who hast brought us both to everlasting perdition.” Thus soul and body will mutually anathematize each other.
And now, reader endeavour to imagine the shame and confusion which will weigh those poor creatures to the ground when first they see each other again. Husband and wife will meet, brothers and sisters, parents and children, friends and acquaintances; those who have lived in the same town or the same village and have known each other from childhood. Their shame will be so overwhelming that they would prefer to endure any physical torture than be exposed to it. And their bodies will be so hideously ugly, so disgusting in appearance, that they will shudder at the sight of one another. Who can describe the mourning and lamentation that will prevail amongst these hapless creatures! Their misery is indeed unutterable.
Bethink thyself, whoever thou art who readest or hearest this, what awful despair would seize upon thee if thou wert amongst the number of these lost souls. In what piteous tones thou wouldst bewail with them thy hapless fate. “Alas! what have we done? Woe to us most miserable ones; would that we had never been born! Cursed be thou, my wife, who didst provoke me to sin! Cursed be you, my children, who are the cause of my damnation! Cursed be you, my friends and acquaintances, for you were the occasion of this calamity that has come upon me! Cursed forever be all those who have been partners of my life and partners of my sin!”
Think over this, O sinner, and let your hard heart be softened.
Whenever you pass by the cemetery of the place in which you live, remember that perchance thou mayst ere long be laid there to rest in the grave until the general resurrection.
Wherefore make such good use of the brief period of life, that thou mayst be numbered among the just, and arise with them to everlasting felicity, and not with the reprobate to everlasting torments. Pray often thus in thy heart: “O most compassionate Lord Jesus, I implore Thee for the sake of Thy bitter Passion and death, and through the Last Judgment at which Thou wilt be the Judge of the whole world, grant me grace to live in such a manner that at the resurrection I may arise with joy and not with shame.” Amen.
III. On the Manner in which the Good and the Wicked will be Conducted to the Place of Judgment.
ACCORDING to the generally-received opinion the final judgment will be held in the valley of Josaphat, at no great distance from Jerusalem. This opinion rests upon the words of the prophet Joel: “I will gather together all nations, and bring them down into the valley of Josaphat, and I will plead with them there.” And again: “Let the nations come up into the valley of Josaphat, for there will I sit to judge all nations round about” (Joel iii. 2, 12).
It is not difficult to allege a reason why Christ should hold the final judgment there, for it is in the neighbourhood of the spot where He suffered, and is it not just that in the same place He should appear as our Judge? Mount Olivet, the scene of His agony, was also that of His glorious Ascension.
It may, however, be objected, that the valley of Josaphat could not contain the millions and millions of human beings who will be gathered together for judgment. But when a spot is indicated as the probable theatre of the Last Judgment, it does not necessarily follow that all mankind will be crowded into that narrow space.
We will now consider in what manner we shall be assembled for the final judgment. If the good and the evil are found together in the graveyards and elsewhere, that will come to pass which Our Lord predicted: “So shall it be at the end of the world: the Angels shall go out, and shall separate the wicked from among the just” (Matt. xiii. 49). For since the good are laid to rest amongst the wicked, it follows that at the resurrection they will be found amongst the wicked. Accordingly, after the General Resurrection the holy Angels will come and separate the elect from the reprobate. St. Paul, speaking of this, says: “For the Lord Himself shall come down from Heaven with commandment, and with the voice of an archAngel and with the trumpet of God; and the dead who are in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive who are left, shall be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ into the air” (i Thess. iv. 15, 16). All the good, that is to say, will be carried on the clouds with splendour and great glory by the Angels to the place of judgment
Now imagine to thyself what a beautiful sight it will be, when the Saints with their glorified bodies, shining like burnished gold in the sunlight, will be transported through the air, escorted by their guardian Angels! With what exultation and rejoicing will they pass on their triumphal way!
And when they all come together in the valley of Josaphat, they will greet one another lovingly, and embrace one another with mutual joy. Think for a moment, O Christian, how thou wouldst rejoice if thou wert so fortunate as to find thyself amongst the number of the blessed. This happiness is yet within thy reach; if thou dost really desire it with all the strength of thy will, thou wilt be counted in this happy company. Bestir thyself to fulfill all thy duties well and faithfully, and thou too shalt one day join in that glorious and triumphant procession.
We will now consider how the wicked shall be transported to the valley of Josaphat, and what will await them there. Alas! their doom is so sorrowful, that I can scarcely venture to describe it in detail. What will these unhappy sinners think, what will they say, when they see the holy Angels taking the elect from their midst and carrying them with glory and splendour through the air? The Wise Man gives us an insight into their thoughts when he tells us: “These, seeing it, shall be troubled with terrible fear and shall be amazed at the suddenness of the unexpected salvation of the just; saying within themselves, repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit: These are they whom we had sometime in derision, and for a parable of reproach. We fools esteemed their life madness and their end without honour. Behold how they are numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the Saints” (Wisd. v. 2-5). How it will grieve them to behold those whom they formerly despised so utterly now honoured and beloved by the Angels of God, and conducted by them in glory and triumph to meet Christ. And they who once made such a display of their riches, who despised all their fellow creatures in their arrogant pride, now stand amongst the fallen Angels, poor, miserable, contemned.
When the Angels have escorted all the elect to the valley of Josaphat, they will proceed to drive all the reprobate thither, with the evil spirits that are mingled with them. They will cry with a loud voice: “Away with you, away to judgment! The Judge of the living and the dead commands you to appear before Him.”
What a piercing cry of anguish these unhappy creatures will utter ! They will do their utmost to resist the behest of the Angels, but they will struggle in vain; they must obey the command of God s messengers. Together with the evil spirits the damned will be forcibly driven to the place of judgment. What an awful journey! The air is rent with cries of rage. The spirits of darkness, with diabolical malice and cruelty, already vent their spite in tormenting the hapless creatures whom sin has made their victims. Hear the shriek of despair wrung from the wretched beings: “Fools that we were! thoughtless fools! Whither has the path of transgression led us? Alas! it has brought us to the severe, the terribly severe tribunal of God!”
Listen, O sinner, to the sorrowful lamentations and self-accusations of these poor creatures. Beware lest thou too shouldst be of their number. Pray God to preserve you from so shocking a doom, and say: “Most merciful God, remember at how great a price Thou didst purchase me, and how much Thou didst suffer for me. For the sake of that inestimable price do not permit me to be lost, rescue me, number me amongst the sheep of Thy fold. With them I will then praise and magnify Thy loving kindness to all eternity.”
IV. How all Men will Await Christ’s Coming in the Vale of Josaphat.
LET us now contemplate the multitudes gathered together in the place of judgment. All mankind, every human being who has ever lived upon earth, as well as all the rebellious spirits who were cast out of Heaven, will be compelled to appear here before the judgment seat of Christ.
Who can attempt to enumerate these countless multitudes? The number of the earth’s inhabitants living at this present moment amounts to about 1,400,000,000. This vast multitude will have disappeared in less than half a century, and another generation, no less numerous, will have taken their place and filled the earth anew. So it will go on and on until the Last Day. What countless hosts there will be arraigned before the judgment seat of Christ!
The good will be all together, rejoicing in the certainty of their eternal salvation. They are adorned with glorious apparel, and shine like the stars of Heaven. They know one another, they greet one another, and exchange mutual congratulations respecting their happy lot.
Not so the wicked. The good stand on the right hand, and they upon the left. Unfortunately the number of the wicked is far, far larger than that of the good. Both before and after the coming of Christ the prince of darkness held sway over a much greater number of subjects than Christ Himself. Alas ! my God, what an immense multitude there will be on the left hand! The mourning and misery amongst them will be so unparalleled that the good who are on the right hand would, were it possible, be deeply touched with compassion.
For all these countless millions of human beings will pour out their excessive sorrow and anguish in piteous lamentations. Awaiting the coming of the supreme Judge, they stand together, apart from the just, full of confusion at their own hideousness, and especially at their sinfulness, now evident to all.
Yet above and beyond all this misery is the consternation that prevails on account of the coming of the Judge; it is beyond the power of words to express. For now these unhappy creatures first become fully aware how terrible are the judgments of God, which they during their lifetime heeded so little. Now for the first time they recognize what a fearful disgrace it is for them to have their sins made manifest in the presence of all the Angels and Saints, in the presence likewise of the devils and of the lost. Now for the first time they are conscious of the awful nature of the sentence that will be passed on them by the Judge whom they have often insolently set at naught. These and many other things contribute to imbue them with such an unutterable dread of the coming of their Judge, that they quake in every limb with terror, and almost swoon away with apprehension and alarm. They will say to one another in plaintive tones: “Alas, what have we done! How terribly we have deceived ourselves ! For the sake of the few and transitory joys of earth, we must undergo an eternity of anguish. What good are all the riches, the voluptuous pleasures, the pride, the honours of the world to us now? We fools have trifled away celestial and eternal goods for the poor and paltry things of earth. Alas, what will become of us when our Judge appears! Ye mountains, fall on us, and ye hills, cover us, for truly it would be less intolerable for us to be crushed under your weight, than to stand before the whole world covered with shame and confusion, and behold the wrathful countenance of the just Judge!”
Unhappy sinner, whoever thou art who readest this book, do not flatter thyself with the vain hope that this description of the misery of the lost is exaggerated. They will complain a thousand times more loudly, and their pain and misery will be unutterable. Avail thyself of the short and precious season of thy earthly existence, do penance, do now all that thou wouldst desire to have done at the Day of Judgment. Ask of God grace to amend thy sinful life, in order that the day of Christ s coming may not be a day of unspeakable terror to thee.
My God, I acknowledge that by my sinful life I have deserved to be banished from Thy presence forever. Yet I sincerely repent of my sins and pray Thee for the grace of a true conversion, so that I may not await Thy coming among the number of the lost. Amen
V. On the Appearance of Christ’s Cross in the Heavens.
WHEN all mankind are assembled in the valley of Josaphat, the prediction of Our Lord will be fulfilled: Men withering away for fear, and expectation of what shall come upon the whole earth.” For they will be in such anxiety and terror in anticipation of the approaching judgment that, if such a thing were possible, they would faint away. They will look up to the Heavens continually with fear and trembling, and every moment that the coming of the dreaded Judge is delayed will serve to increase their apprehension of this advent. At length the Heavens will be opened, and the sign of Christ s triumphant victory, the sign of the holy Cross, will be carried down by a host of Angels and exhibited to the whole world.
These are Our Lord s words in regard to this mystery: “The powers of Heaven shall be moved, and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in Heaven, and then shall all tribes of the earth mourn” (Matt. xxiv. 29, 30). The Catholic Church teaches us what this sign will be, which is to appear in Heaven: The sign of the Cross will appear in Heaven, when the Lord shall come to judgment. All the Fathers concur in interpreting this sign which will be displayed in the Heavens as the Cross of Christ. Although the cross whereon Our Lord suffered is now divided into innumerable little pieces, into particles even, yet by Divine power it will once more form a complete whole. It will be carried down from Heaven by the Angels with solemn pomp; and the Angels who bear it will be followed by others, who, as the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, maintains, will carry all the other instruments of the Passion; that is to say, the pillar, the lance, the scourges, the hammer, the iron glove, the dice, the scarlet robe, the white robe, the seamless tunic, the holy winding-sheet, the vessel containing myrrh and all the other instruments that were employed during the Passion, and the object of this will be to make manifest to the whole world how many and manifold were the pains Christ suffered for our sakes.
Now when all mankind behold the holy cross and all the other sacred instruments of the Passion shining like the sun at midday, for the cross of Christ will gleam with a light of unexampled brilliance, those who are waiting below will stand in trembling fear and woeful lamentation. For the sight of the holy cross and the other instruments of torture will recall to their mind all the grievous pains that Our Lord endured, and indeed in so forcible and vivid a manner, that His whole Passion will seem to be re-enacted before them. Then the bitterest remorse will fill the heart of the wicked. But this remorse, how great and how deep soever it may be, will be futile. It comes too late. This remorse is the companion of despair. In their anguish of soul and their despair they will exclaim with Cain, the fratricide:
“My iniquity is greater than that I may deserve pardon; “or with Judas, who betrayed his Lord and Master: “I have sinned, in betraying innocent blood.” Yes, all the lost will concur in exclaiming, “Alas! we have sinned in betraying innocent blood. We have tortured, we have crucified, we have put the Son of God to death by our sins.” Then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, for they will perceive how grievously they have offended against God, but the cries of mourning and despair prevailing everywhere will be in vain.
What will the unfortunate heathen say, who have never heard, never known anything about Christ’s Passion? They will bitterly bewail and lament their ignorance, saying: “Alas! we unhappy ones, had we but known this, we should never have come to this misery. Had we but known that the great and infinite God did and suffered so much for us, how grateful we should have been to Him, how willingly we would have served Him! We were deluded by our false gods. We saw in them no virtues, only vile and vicious deeds. Against the promptings of conscience we imitated their vices, and hence we are damned. We cannot complain, or think ourselves wronged by the holy and just God, because we are amongst the reprobate. If only we had hearkened to the voice of our conscience, this would not have been our fate.”
But what will those say who put Christ to death? Pilate, Caiphas, Annas, the high priest, as well as the Jews who cried: “Crucify Him! ” and “His blood be upon us and upon our children,” all who took part in the cruel, atrocious crime of crucifying their God, will at the sight of the sacred instruments of the Passion shriek aloud in despair and desire to be annihilated. Execrated and cursed even by the damned, they will stand there, branded as deicides, objects of abhorrence to the whole world.
It is not my intention to discuss what bad Christians, who have blasphemed the Son of God by word or deed, will feel at that time; for brevity’s sake I leave thee, reader, to meditate upon it for thyself. Only one thing I would ask of thee; reflect upon this, what thou wouldst say, what thou wouldst most deeply regret, if thou wert amongst the number of the damned, and didst then perceive that thou hadst been the cause of Christ s sufferings and hadst crucified Him by thy sins. Couldst thou now feel in thy heart something of the contrition which would then pierce thy soul, assuredly thou wouldst never again for the remainder of thy life commit any heinous sin. Couldst thou now mourn over the sufferings of Christ with expressions of such poignant sorrow as would then rise to thy lips, thou wouldst infallibly obtain the remission of thy sins. Wherefore, frequently adore thy crucified Saviour, call to mind His sufferings for thy sake, and recite the following prayer:
O faithful Redeemer of the world, who didst endure such unspeakable sufferings for me, a miserable sinner, I pray Thee let not Thy bitter Passion and Thy death upon the cross be unavailing for me. Impress the remembrance of them deeply upon my heart, that I may have them ever before my mind, and may avoid sin which was the cause of Thy suffering. Thus when Thy cross shall appear bright and shining in the Heavens on the Day of Judgment, may it not be to me a sign of damnation, but of salvation, a sign of Thy mercy and of Thy love. Amen.
VI. On the Advent of the Judge.
WHAT we have hitherto heard, O Christian reader, is indeed most fearful and terrible, but it is nothing in comparison with what we are now about to consider. For the coming of the Judge will be so awful, so dreadful, that all that is in Heaven or upon earth will tremble and quake. The power and majesty wherewith He will come is beyond the power of words to describe. In order that we may know something concerning it, and be able to form some conception of it, Christ has Himself foretold His coming in these words: “When the Son of man shall come in His majesty, and all the Angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His majesty, and all nations shall be gathered together before Him” (Matt. xxv. 31,32). And again: They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of Heaven with much power and majesty” (xxiv. 30). Thus we see Our Lord twice asserts that He will come in the clouds of Heaven, attended by all His Angels, in great might and majesty.
Who can depict the greatness of that power, the splendour of that majesty, the countless number of those Angelic hosts! Listen to what the Psalmist says on the subject: “A fire shall go before Him and shall burn His enemies round about. His lightnings have shone forth to the world, the earth saw and trembled. The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The Heavens declared His justice and all people saw His glory” (Ps. xcvi. 3-6). And in another psalm we read: “Out of Sion the loveliness of His beauty shall shine forth. . . . A fire shall burn before Him, and a mighty tempest shall be round about Him” (xlix. 2). The prophet Isaias also predicts the advent of the Judge in the following terms: “Behold, the Lord will come with fire, and His chariots are like a whirlwind, to render His wrath in indignation and His rebuke with flames of fire” (Is. Ixvi. 15). Moreover, Christ Himself declares: “As lightning cometh out of the east, and appeareth even into the west: so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matt. xxiv. 27).
If such be the manner in which the Judge shall come, if flames of fire proceed from His countenance, if He descends from Heaven in a fiery chariot, armed with wrath against sinners, who but must tremble at His coming ! We shall in fact, all falter and be afraid. Besides the terrors of the Judge Himself, the sight of the innumerable company of Angels that will descend with Him, will inspire us with awe and great alarm. For on that day not one Angel will remain in Heaven; they will all be present as witnesses of the judgment.
Now, theologians maintain that in the lowest choir of Angels the number of Angels is ten times greater than that of all the human beings that have ever existed upon earth. In the second choir there are ten times as many as in the first, in the third ten times as many as in the second, and so on, so that the number of these Angelic beings appears endless. All these Angels, who are pure spirits and therefore invisible to bodily sight, will then appear visible, exceedingly bright and glorious, so that the damned also may see the magnificence of Christ s advent.
St. John in his Apocalypse [BOOK OF REVELATIONS] speaks thus of the hosts of Angels that will attend upon the Judge at His coming: “I saw Heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called faithful and true, and with justice doth He judge and fight. And His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many diadems; . . . and He was clothed with a garment sprinkled with blood, and His name is called: The word of God.” And the armies that are in Heaven followed Him on white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of His mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword, that with it He may strike the nations. And He shall rule them with a rod of iron ; and He treads the wine-press of the fierceness of the wrath of God the almighty. And He hath on His garment and on His thigh written : King of kings, and Lord of lords” (Apoc. xix. 11-16).
How we all shall tremble, O my God, when we behold these hosts of celestial spirits with their kingly leader! The prophet Daniel once saw an Angel, and he was so terror-struck at his appearance, that he fell to the ground like one dead. If such an effect was produced on him by the sight of a single Angel, whose errand was one of comfort and consolation, what will become of us, when so many hundreds of thousands of heavenly princes draw nigh to us with wrathful countenances? St. Ephrem, speaking of this says: “The Angels will stand there with a menacing mien, their eyes flashing with the sacred fire of just indignation, roused by the iniquities of mankind.”
Now if the sight of the Angels alone, who will come to judgment with the Divine Judge, is so terrible, what will be the fear and dread inspired by the Judge Himself, when He comes in all the wrath of offended justice! As in Heaven there is no greater delight than the contemplation of God, so at the Last Judgment there will be no greater pain than to look upon the angry Judge. Before entering upon an explanation of this, let us see with what majesty Christ will come to judgment.
The advent of Christ will be so terrible that neither man nor Angel is capable of describing it aright. For all that is most calculated to appal the sinner will be here seen, and nothing will be wanting that can enhance the majesty of Christ. When a monarch makes his entry into a town, what pomp and splendor is displayed there ! Strains of lively music mingle with the more solemn peal of bells, salutes are fired, the whole population is astir, every one straining his eyes to see the monarch; first come his servants, then his counsellors, then the nobles of the land; lastly he comes himself, surrounded by a vast multitude of people.
Yet what is all this magnificence the world can offer when compared with the majesty which will attend the coming of the King of kings! Compare a poor ragged beggar-boy with a sovereign prince who enters riding in a chariot of gold, and we have a feeble and insufficient image of the difference that exists between the pomp and splendor of this world and the glory wherewith Christ will come to judgment.
Yet His advent will not merely be grand and glorious beyond measure, it will likewise be awful in its nature. If the graves opened at the blast of the Angel’s trumpet, and the sound of that trumpet re-echoed throughout the whole world, what a panic of fear will seize upon mankind when the Angels who precede Christ’s triumphal call cause the sound of their trumpets to be heard!
” What,” asks St. Augustine, “will become of us on that dreadful day, the Day of Judgment, when the Lord shall descend with His Angels with the sound of trumpets, and the whole earth shall tremble with fear?”
When God came down of old upon Mount Sinai, we read in Holy Scripture: “Now the third day was come and the morning appeared; and behold thunders began to be heard, and lightning to flash, and a very thick cloud to cover the mount, and the noise of the trumpet sounded exceeding loud, and the people that was in the camp feared.” And when all the people heard the thunder and the sound of the trumpet, and saw the lightning and the smoke arising from out of the mount, they were terrified, and withdrew to a distance, saying to Moses: “Speak thou to us and we will do all things that the Lord hath commanded, but let not the Lord speak to us lest we die” (Exod. xx. 19).
If all this happened when God came down from Heaven to give His law to the Hebrew nation, and adopt them as His children, what, thinkest thou, O Christian, will be the case when He comes to require an account of the manner in which His commandments have been kept? If the children of Israel were so terrified at the giving of the law that they thought they should die of fear, what cause shall not we mortals, we Christians especially, have to tremble, since we have so often wilfully transgressed the commandments of God!
O God, almighty Judge of all men, Thou wilt descend from Heaven at the Last Day with great power and majesty, to act in Thy character of Judge, and the thought of Thy coming causes me to quake with fear. Inspire me now, I beseech Thee, with salutary fear, so that I may avoid sin, and may not merit to be crushed by Thy just anger. Amen.
VII. On the Manner in which Christ will take His Place on the Judgment-seat.
PAY heed, O reader, to what is now coming, and do not imagine that it concerns thee not. Thou wilt most assuredly witness it all one day with thy bodily eyes, and all will be a thousand times more terrible than my pen can depict it.
When Christ, in His chariot of fire, has reached Mount Olivet, He will pause in the air, at such a height that He can be clearly seen by all men, until the Angels have prepared the throne of judgment.
The prophet Daniel thus portrays the scene: “I beheld till thrones were placed, and the Ancient of days sat ; His garment was white as snow and the hair of His head like clean wool; His throne like flames of fire, the wheels of it like a burning fire. A swift stream of fire issued forth from before Him; thousands of thousands ministered to Him, and ten times a hundred thousand stood before Him: the judgment sat and the books were opened” (Dan. vii. 9, 10).
But Christ will not sit in judgment alone; the twelve Apostles will be with Him, according to the promise He gave them: “Amen I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the seat of His majesty, you also shall sit on twelve seats judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. xix. 28).
Who can give any idea of the magnificence of Christ s throne? It defies all description.
We read that King Solomon caused a wonderfully beautiful throne to be constructed out of ivory, richly adorned with gold and precious stones. This throne was so magnificent that the inspired writer says of it that in no kingdom of the world had any such work been made. If the judgment-seat of King Solomon was composed of such costly material and fashioned so skilfully, what will be the splendour of the judgment-seat of the King of kings, on which He will sit in His majesty to judge the whole world!
Our Lord speaks of this judgment-seat as a throne of great splendour, when He says: “When the Son of man shall come in His majesty, and all the Angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the seat of His majesty” (Matt. xxv. 31).
Some idea of what the appearance of this throne will be may be gathered from the words which have just been quoted from the prophet Daniel, and also this description given by St. John: “There was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. . . . And from the throne proceeded lightnings, and voices, and thunders; and there were seven lamps burning before the throne” (Apoc. iv. 3-5).
Such are dazzlingly bright than the lightnings and fiery flashes of a tempest?
The Divine Judge will seat Himself upon this throne and His grave countenance will be visible to men and Angels. All created beings will tremble with awestruck reverence. St. John declares this in the Apocalypse: “I saw a great white throne, and One sitting upon it, from whose face the earth and Heaven fled away, and there was no place found for them” (Apoc. xx. 11). In these words the prophet of the New Testament appears to indicate that the Heavens and the earth will not be able to bear to meet the eye of their Judge; that all rational beings, both Angels and men, will quake at the sight of His stern countenance.
That the Angels also will fear and tremble, is asserted by St. Augustine, in the following passage from his writings: “When Our Lord says that the powers of Heaven shall be moved, He alludes to the Angels; for so terrible will the judgment be, that the Angels will not be exempt from fear; they too will tremble and be afraid. For just as when a judge sits in judgment his grave countenance not only strikes terror into the culprits before him, but over-awes the officials standing around, so when all mankind are brought to judgment the celestial ministers will share the universal horror and alarm.” the images whereby Holy Scripture portrays the judgment-seat of Christ. Who of all mankind can venture to raise his eyes to this fiery throne? Will it not be more
St. John Chrysostom corroborates this statement, when he says: “Every one will then be filled with astonishment, with apprehension, with terror, for even the Angels will be sore afraid.”
Many other Fathers of the Church and commentators upon Holy Scripture express a similar opinion.
Now if, according to the opinion of learned and holy men even the Angels will not be without fear in the Day of Judgment, how much greater cause will the Saints have to fear, since they must stand before Christ’s tribunal, and give a strict account of all their actions. Yes, it is unmistakably evident, from what St. John says in the Apocalypse, that the blessed Saints are struck with awe and trembling. He describes how Christ appeared to him, and the effect it had upon him. ” When I had seen Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying, Fear not. I am the First and the Last.” If the beloved Apostle was so awestruck at the sight of his dear Master and Lord, who had come to console and not to judge him, that he fell at His feet as if dead, and could not summon up courage to rise to his feet until Christ spoke to him in the kindest and most comforting manner, can it be supposed that the Saints will not be terrified on the Day of Judgment, when they behold Christ in His awful majesty and are called upon to give to Him an account of their whole life? And, O poor sinner, how will it then fare with thee, and with all the reprobate, if even the Angels and Saints tremble at the coming of the Judge? Words cannot express the terror and dismay of evil spirits and unrepentant sinners, when they shall behold their Divine Judge on the throne of His majesty, and know that He will rigorously judge and condemn them to Hell for all eternity.
In order to give some idea of the terrible dread and alarm of the fallen Angels and of unhappy sinners, let us hear what Holy Scripture says concerning the appalling exterior of the Judge and the greatness of His anger, in the first chapter of the Apocalypse, where St. John tells us: “I saw the Son of man clothed in a garment down to the feet and girt about the breast with a golden girdle. His head and His hairs were white as white wool and as snow, and His eyes were as a flame of fire, and His feet like unto fine brass, as in a burning furnace. And His voice as the sound of many waters. And from His mouth came out a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was as the sun shineth in His power. Upon His head were many diadems, and He was clothed with a garment sprinkled with blood. He treadeth the wine-press of the fierceness of the wrath of God the almighty, and He hath on His garment and His thigh written: King of kings and Lord of lords.”
Meditate upon these wondrous words, O Christian, and picture to thyself thy future Judge in vivid colors. How could His majestic appearance be described more forcibly than in the words we have just quoted?
What must be the splendour of that countenance which is said to shine as the sun at its meridian! what must be the brilliance of those eyes which glow with holy fervour like flames of fire! what the force of that voice which has the sound of a volume of waters! what must be the keenness of that tongue which cuts like a two-edged sword! what a glorious head that must be which is adorned with many costly diadems! How terrible that garment must be to look upon which is sprinkled with blood ! And what the dignity of that regal name: The King of kings and Lord of lords! How frightened we all shall be, what fear and woe will overtake us when our Judge looks upon us! And imagine what the feelings of the damned will be, when they behold the Judge of all their wicked deeds; how they will quail and quake beneath His gaze in the hour of His just wrath!
We shall perhaps form a better conception of what the wrath of God is, if we listen to what the prophet Isaias says concerning it: “Behold the name of the Lord cometh from afar, His wrath burneth, and is heavy to bear; His lips are filled with indignation, and His tongue as a devouring fire; His breath as a torrent overflowing even to the midst of the neck, to destroy the nations into nothing” (Is. xxx. 27, 28).
These are of a truth terrible words. Do they not clearly indicate with what great wrath Christ will manifest Himself to the world ? Well may all unhappy sinners be overwhelmed with terror and dismay and anguish; well may they cry to the mountains to fall on them and the hills to cover them.
Now when the Judge is seated upon the throne of His majesty, all who are assembled in the valley of Josaphat, Angels and devils, the redeemed and the lost, will all have to adore Christ, as St. Paul says: “We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. For it is written: As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Rom. xiv. 10, 11).
How solemn and how sublime a scene will then be enacted, O my God, when all the millions and thousands of millions of Angels, together with the blessed, in visible form will prostrate themselves upon the ground, and the evil spirits with their unhappy victims, and all the damned, will be forced against their will to adore Christ and acknowledge Him as their God and Judge ! These wretched creatures will fall on their knees, and bend their heads down to the earth, not daring to raise their eyes, lest they should encounter the angry glance of their Judge. They will lament and bewail, filled with unutterable consternation and dismay. Gladly would they have the earth open and swallow them up, nay, they would, if it were possible, cast themselves down into a bottomless abyss rather than suffer such humiliation.
Pause and consider, O sinner, what thy feelings would be if thou wert amid the number of these lost souls; thou wouldst be overwhelmed with sorrow and distress.
St. Vincent relates that a young man of dissolute life once dreamed that he was arraigned before the judgment-seat of God, and required to give an account of his ill-spent life. His terror was so great that it turned his hair perfectly white. If the terrors of the Last Judgment experienced only in a dream were sufficient to turn the colour of that young man s hair, what, thinkest thou, will be the effect they will produce on thee and on me, when we are present, not in a dream, but in reality, at the Last Judgment, and with our bodily eyes we behold our Judge in all His holy indignation?
O most just Judge, look down, I beseech Thee, from Thy throne in Heaven upon me, a poor sinner, and for the sake of Thine infinite compassion be merciful to me in the day of final judgment. I know that I shall not be able to stand in that dread day, but by Thy just sentence I shall be condemned to eternal damnation. Yet I know also that if a sinner implores mercy of Thee in the time of grace, it will not be denied him. Therefore I entreat Thee with deep humility and contrition, through Thy bitter Passion, that Thou wouldst pardon my sins and pass a lenient sentence upon me in the Day of Judgment. Amen.